Chapter XVIII. After the Encounter
 

Less than an hour after leaving his nephew and Jadwin, James Morris reached the spot where the fearful encounter of the evening before had occurred.

The spectacle was one to make the heart of any onlooker turn sick, and a shudder passed through the frame of the trader as he gazed at the scene of desolation before him.

Close to the burnt-out camp-fire rested the form of Barnaby Cass, a well-known resident of Winchester, who had followed Barringford to the Ohio district in an endeavor to better his fortunes, A bullet had passed through his heart, and he must have died ere his body struck the ground.

A dozen paces away lay the corpse of the other white man, Oliver Lampton, well known through western Pennsylvania as the Trapper Preacher, because about half of his time was spent in hunting and trapping, and the remainder in preaching temperance to the whites and red men who indulged in liquor to excess. Beside Lampton lay one of the pack-horses, also dead, and another pack-horse lay a little further off, suffering greatly from two broken legs. To put this animal out of its misery James Morris fired a shot into its brain.

Great confusion was on all sides, for many of the packs had been broken open and rifled of their most valuable contents. About half of the stuff had been left behind, principally the goods of the greatest weight. Much that was breakable had been broken, and some valuable blankets that could not be carried off had been slashed and cut with keen knives, in a hasty endeavor to ruin them.

"The rascals!" muttered the trader. "If only we can get on their trail they shall pay dearly for their bloody work here."

Having surveyed the camp, he moved around among the trees and brushwood in the vicinity. He soon found the body of an Indian who had belonged to the pack-train party, and then another Indian who looked to be an enemy. The latter had his face painted in peculiar wavy streaks which the trader had seen twice before.

"The Wanderers!" he muttered. "I half suspected it might be so. This is the work of that rascal Flat Nose--and if that is so, he is moving northward with all speed to get away with his booty. More than likely some French hunters--ha!" He broke off short, for in the undergrowth he had caught sight of another form, that of a white man leaning against a fallen tree, with a gun clutched tightly in his stiffened hands.

"Baptiste Masson!" he muttered, naming a rough French hunter and trapper who, in years gone by, had worked for Jean Bevoir. "As I thought. It was a plot between the Wanderers and the French! They mean to drive me from the Ohio if they possibly can. Masson, eh? Can it be that Jean Bevoir, and Valette, and Bergerac were in it, too? More than likely."

The Frenchman was dead, and James Morris did not hesitate to take his gun and ammunition. He also searched the fellow's pockets, but found nothing of value, nor any clew which might lead to the identity of his companions in the outrage. A further hunt through the forest revealed where something of a struggle had taken place between two white men on foot, but both were gone, and the trail was lost in an adjacent brook, down which one had fled and the other had likely followed, at least for a distance.

The fact that he did not find the body of Sam Barringford gave James Morris hope. If the old frontiersman was not seriously wounded it was more than likely he was on the trail of those who had attacked the pack-train, with a view to finding out where they were going, or to ascertain exactly who was responsible for the affair.

"I know Sam will do what he can," he thought, and with this small degree of comfort he loaded his steed with such things as he could carry and started on the return to the trading-post.

It was a hard journey, and he did not reach the Ohio until long after nightfall. He found the post being guarded by five frontiersmen and eight Indians, who had been hastily called together as soon as Henry and Jadwin appeared.

"Father!" cried Dave joyfully, as he ran to meet his parent. "I am glad you are back safe."

"Has Henry come?"

"Yes, and I made him lie down, he was so weak. What an awful fight it must have been! Did you discover who did it?"

"Partly. One of the dead redskins was a Wanderer, and a dead white man was that good-for-nothing Baptiste Masson I have often mentioned to you."

"The fellow who traveled with Jean Bevoir?"

"The same. I am inclined to think that the attack was organized by Flat Nose, of the Wanderers, and Bevoir. If you'll remember, Jadwin said Flat Nose, Bevoir, and Valette were very friendly."

"What about Sam?"

"I couldn't find any trace of him, although I looked around pretty well."

"Sam carried fifty pounds of the money you sent for. Henry has the rest of it safe."

"I am glad of that. But I wish I knew about Sam. He may have run himself into a regular hornet's nest."

Nothing had happened to disturb those at the post itself, and James Morris lost no time in sending out two white men and two Indians, with horses to bring in what was left on the trail of his belongings.

It was found that Henry was not seriously wounded, and after a good night's sleep the youth felt much better. His mind was now clearer, and he related all the particulars of the attack as far as he knew them.

"I should judge there must have been, at least, six white men and twenty Indians," he said.

"They ran from tree to tree and had us at a disadvantage from the very start. I should have been shot dead if I hadn't got behind one of the horses. The redskins set up a fearful din after the white men shot off their guns. I was afraid every one of us would be killed and scalped."

"Thank God that you escaped!" murmured James Morris, and Dave breathed a silent amen. The following day found James Morris more impatient than ever to learn what had become of Sam Barringford. He wanted to go on a search for the old frontiersman, yet he did not deem it advisable to leave the trading-post, fearing that an attack might come during his absence.

"I will go out for you," said Jadwin "I'd do 'most anything fer Sam Barringford. We have hunted and fit Injuns fer twenty-five years and more."

"And I'll go with Tony," put in Ira Sanderson. "I think we can hit the trail if any white men can."

The matter was talked over for fully an hour, and Dave took in what was said with deep interest.

"Father, let them go, and let me go with them," he said. "You know what I think of Sam. If he is in trouble, I want to aid him if it can possibly be done."

"You'll be safer here, Dave."

"Perhaps, but let me go, won't you?"

Dave continued to plead, and in the end it was settled that he should accompany Tony Jadwin and Ira Sanderson on the scouting tour. The three were to go on horseback, and were to return inside of four or five days, unless a turn of circumstances made it necessary to stay away longer.

"You take good care of yourself, Dave," said Henry, who was sitting on a bench with his head bound up. "Those Indians are on the warpath, and they mean business."

"Well, I'll mean business too, if I get a chance at them," replied the youth, with a short laugh.

From Henry it was learned that all at the Morris homestead were well. The twins were now able to walk and were very cute. In spite of all that had been done to learn something of their parentage, the mystery surrounding their identity was as thick as ever. A few inquiries had been made concerning them, but nobody had come forward to claim the pair.

"I reckon they are going to be Sam's twins after all," said Henry. "That is, unless something has happened to Sam. If he's dead--but no, I can't think that, can you?"

"I cannot," answered Dave soberly. "He's our best chum, isn't he? Oh, he must be alive!" He paused a moment. "But if he isn't, I reckon we'll have to keep the twins for him."

"Of course we'll have to keep the twins. My, but they are funny little chaps! Nell thinks the world of them, and mother and Rodney are just about as bad. I think, behind it all, the folks would rather keep them than have somebody come and take them away," concluded Henry.

Preparations for the departure were soon complete, and the party left the trading-post in the morning, long before the sun was up. It had been decided that they should go straight to the spot where the attack had taken place, and from that point do their best to learn what had become of Sam Barringford, and of the men who had run away with the goods.

"Remember, my son, to keep out of danger if you can possibly do so," was James Morris' final warning. "I would rather lose my goods a dozen times over than have anything serious happen to you."

"I'll do my best," answered Dave; and a moment later he rode away, little dreaming of the surprises in store for him.